Protests against war rehearsals

Every two years, parts of northern Australia are invaded by the joint Australian-US war rehearsals known as Exercise Talisman Sabre. In the words of the Australian Department of Defence, this US-led exercise is “designed to train Australian and US forces in planning and conducting Combined Task Force operations in order to improve Australian Defence Force/US combat readiness and interoperability. This exercise is a major undertaking that reflects the closeness of our alliance and the strength of the ongoing military-military relationship.”

This year Talisman Sabre (TS11) was conducted from July 11 to 29. The US contingent alone consisted of eight warships and submarines (including nuclear-powered vessels), 135 aircraft and 14,000 military personnel. This practice for future Iraq/Afghanistan style invasions occurred at the Shoalwater Bay Training Area (central Queensland), Townsville Field Training Area, Delamere Range Facility (Northern Territory), Bradshaw Field Training Area (Northern Territory), Mount Bundey Training Area (Northern Territory), the air space over the northern part of the Northern Territory, port facilities in Queensland (Brisbane, Gladstone and Alma ports) and adjacent waters in the Coral, Timor and Arafura Seas.

As in previous years, the war rehearsals as well as the war in Afghanistan and the Australia-US alliance were challenged by protesters predominantly around Shoalwater Bay and nearby Rockhampton. On July 16, while people demonstrated against TS11 and the war in Afghanistan outside the Rockhampton army base, one protester stepped onto the road blocking the main gate. He refused to move and was arrested.

On July 18 a planned live fire exercise (using live bullets and shells) at Shoalwater Bay was halted after three protesters announced that they had entered the training area and were still somewhere within its boundaries. After three days within the training area, the trio were arrested while they were blockading military vehicles.

Peace activist Bryan Law caused a stir in Rockhampton by announcing his intention to disarm a military helicopter to the Rockhampton Airport, Defence Department, Queensland Police and media many months prior to TS11. On July 21, Law reportedly used bolt cutters to enter the airfield in broad daylight and land a penetrating blow with a garden mattock on an Australian Army Tiger attack helicopter before being restrained by soldiers and later arrested by police.